The beginning of product placement in movies

E.T.:The Extra Terrestrial

Year: 1982
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Melissa Mathison


This is one of the highest grossing films of all time. It had an interesting box office journey in which it started out slow and grew stronger. It stayed a steady grosser for nearly an entire year at the box office and I think it actually holds the record for consecutive weeks in the theater. I would have to check my facts to be certain of that though. I have pondered about the success of this movie before, what was it that set it apart from the others and made it so special? I believe that it is because it feels so real, centering on a family in a domestic situation many of us can relate to. It reminds us of what it was like to be a kid again and gives us hope for the possibilities out there in the universe. This is a magical movie, it’s fun and funny, and above all else it is legendary.

When I was in high school I remember watching this movie in Spanish 2. I hadn’t seen the movie since I was a little kid, and remembered little from the plot. The version we were watching was in Spanish though so I understood little of the dialogue outside of “E.T. telephono mi casa.” My class period only allowed us to watch about three quarters of the movie. I saw up until the part when E.T. died and I was floored. I didn’t remember that happening, that couldn’t be right. I spent the entire day thinking about it, had this Spanish version somehow been different? The movie had me at that point and I hadn’t even been able to understand what the characters in the film were talking about, that is how good the movie is. When I got out of school that day I went to work at the video store and picked that movie out to play on the TVs. We had two televisions in the store that we would play customer-friendly films on during operation hours. It was that night after hearing it in my own language I fell in love with the film. It is a special movie, it touched our hearts and made us believe in and hope for life on other planets. It also made bike riding look so cool. I’m sure countless people found themselves in better shape after seeing it.

Steven Spielberg has had one of the most distinguishing careers of any filmmaker in history and this film is what he chose as the image of his production company, Amblin Entertainment. It is the image of Eliot flying across the moon on his bike, you will see it before many films that Spielberg was involved with. Spielberg added in many things from his own childhood and family life into this film. In fact I think many of Spielberg’s earlier work documents how his family life was when he grew up. I am speaking specifically about Close Encounter of the Third Kind but I’m sure more research would turn up more examples. He dictated the story of this film to the writer during the shooting of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is so incredible the body of work he was putting together at that time, and the great movies he would continue to make for the next thirty years and then some. Spielberg shot this movie for the most part from the eye level of a kid, and outside of Eliot’s mom you don’t actually see an adults face until over half way through the film. That is part of the reason that this movie reminds us of what it was like to be a kid again. Spielberg has always had a great ability to work with children and get a lot out of them. This movie is a great example of that skill given the performances of a very young Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.

I referred to this film as legendary because it more or less created product placement in films. When Spielberg started making the movie he originally wanted to use M&M’s as the candy Eliot used to lure E.T., but the opportunity was declined by the makers of M&M’s. Spielberg chose Reese’s Pieces as an alternative and shortly after sales for the candy skyrocketed. Product placement in films suddenly became a very profitable opportunity for businesses and today it is an important process in the making of any film. So aside from being one of the highest grossing films of all time this film also started something that would affect all movies to come after it.

Since E.T. does die and come back to life in the film there have always been people that want to connect that to Christian symbolism. In case nobody figured it out when he made Schindler’s List, Spielberg is Jewish. He did not make this movie intending there to be any parallels with the religion and has even said that if he did so his mother would have scolded him. However there will always be people out there looking for these kinds of connections when they sometimes don’t exist and even when the connections are completely impractical. This is just a movie about a kid and a friendly alien. It was extremely popular though and undoubtedly was used frequently in efforts to relate religion to youths, albeit inappropriately.

I am always surprised when I watch this movie again how much I enjoy it. I have only ever watched the original version though. I refuse to watch the new editions where guns were taken out and CGI technology was used to give E.T. a waving and flopping tongue. Both Spielberg and his good friend George Lucas love to go back and adjust their older films. Lucas is much worse about it though. This is a stupid thing to do though and I am not a fan of it. The movies that they change were already classics, they also represent the technology of the time and I think altering them is a grave mistake. Movies should represent the time that they were made, eliminating smoking from a movie like E.T. (if that was done at all) denies the fact that people did that so heavily and I think it is important to remember how things used to be. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic movie that is appropriate for all ages and audiences. I think this movie is more than worth your time and I would recommend it to anyone.


Well…Ryan wrote a book! He keeps hounding me to write this post. Now that I sit down to do it, the baby is screaming and our three year old won’t stop talking.  So I’m going to keep it short. This was one of my favorite movies when I was little. It sticks in my mind because it was so magical when I was a little girl. I think that as little kids we all believed in E.T. and thought that he was real.  Ryan wrote pretty much everything there was to say about why it was so easy for us to connect with it as kids.

I love this movie, and it gives me a nostalgic feeling. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and went to Universal Studios with my family.  The E.T. ride was my second favorite ride of all time (the first being the Back to the Future ride, how badass was that one?) and it made it one of my favorite vacations when I was younger.  This is a really great movie and you should see it.

NEXT MOVIE: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)